“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). Jesus did this often – even when “conventional” leadership wisdom would have held that He should keep going. He went up to the mountains, he took a boat out to sea, he was constantly slipping away just to be by Himself. Sometimes out of fatigue, but always to commune with his Father.
This discipline of solitude and silence was the foundation of Jesus’ incredible ministry, upon which He built large speaking engagements across the country, amazing miracles that served as great public relations, life-altering lessons that provoked and inspired the people He encountered.
“Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place,” Richard Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline. “But inward solitude has outward manifestation. There is freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisper better.”
Praying for your ministry is part of your ministry. Without God, it all falls apart sooner or later. And Jesus knew that.
Without God, without connecting to the God of all ministry in prayer, the days get harder. The harvest is overwhelming. The crowd presses in. Some days we just feel like 200 denarii worth of bread, not enough for each member of our community to get even a little bit (John 6:7).
Soon we find ourselves disconnecting. Status: Deactivated.
As Singaporeans, in this incredibly connected and tiny nation, it’s hard to get away from the crowd. In this land, we live and move in crowds. So we make our excuses for never seeking solitude: Even Jesus operated in crowds, we tell ourselves.
But we forget even Jesus sought to withdraw from the crowds He ministered to. The Son of Man got tired like any other man.
Many chapters in the Gospel start with Jesus withdrawing from society, where people were, to seek both physical and spiritual rest. (In the Gospel of Matthew alone, this happened in Chapters 4, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 26 – the latter for one last troubling night, at Gethsemane.)
We must rest not because every ounce of our strength is gone, but because we want to keep going.
“The fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others,” Foster added. “There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts.”
Other than taking time out for spiritual retreats on a regular basis, Foster says to also capture the “little solitudes” that fill our day: Those early morning moments in bed when you rise, sipping a cup of coffee before heading off to work, the walk home past a quiet field.
We cannot wait for burnout to rekindle the flames. We must rest not because every ounce of our strength is gone, but because we want to keep going – and going strong in the power of God. Ministry is a marathon and prayer pitstops don’t slow us down as much as they keep our engines running. We pause so we can go further.
Jesus rested, and then He went straight back into the thick of the crowd.
So slip away and find your desolate place. Close the door and give your soul its much needed Sabbath. No meetings. No next appointments. No calls or messages. And when you’re well rested in the Lord and your strength is renewed, go back out to the crowd – for it is waiting.